By Carol Ann Self
In the fall of 2014, an old friend gave me a small night-blooming cereus in a pot that had been rooted from his larger plant. I knew about this plant in the cactus family. Each bloom opens suddenly at night into a beautiful fragrant blossom, only to wilt in daylight, never to return. But I had never seen one in its nighttime glory.
I put my plant in a larger pot, sat it in afternoon sun and watched it grow year after year. It formed numerous and longer stems, section after section of healthy green. It became so gangly and unwieldy, it needed staking to avoid a floppy mess.
But not a single bloom!
My friend kept telling me it needed more sun. I always countered with how it had at least six hours of strong afternoon sun.
Finally, in mid-July of 2019, I read that cereus plants like five to six hours of MORNING sun with filtered afternoon sun. They don’t like strong Western sun. Aha!
I hauled the now quite heavy pot to the other side of my house to get Eastern sun.
By mid-August, two buds appeared. I sent pictures of the buds to my plant donor friend simply to rant about how excited I was that buds finally appeared. He said at least one of the buds would likely bloom that night.
He coached me on checking it all evening. When it began to swell, it would open within 30 to 45 minutes. Beside myself with excitement, I checked constantly. Close to midnight, I was ready to give up on this being the night when suddenly the bud started getting fat.
I decided to video the opening, but I did not know how to use my phone flash, my flashlight was dead, and there were no outside lights near the plant. The bud was blowing up like a balloon and starting to shudder, so I hurried to find matches and get a candle lit, afraid I would miss the whole thing.
After I settled down to video, I found I had plenty of time.
The unfolding of this now very pregnant bud started with a few spikey white petals popping loose from the outer circle. Then hundreds of delicate, curly ivory stamens stirred and popped up through the now more porous bud.
As more petals opened, a magnificent blood red pistil in the middle began to emerge with its mop of yellow tassels at the end. Then suddenly the whole thing sprang open like the spectacular opening of fireworks after zooming through the sky.
Overcome seeing life move fast enough to be faced with the miracle of it all as opposed to the slow gentle changing we usually see, I could only make exclamations of amazement. It was hard to find appropriate language to exclaim this miracle of nature I witnessed.
There was no way I could say nothing; it was a video. I was doing well not to scream and shout with pure joy, which is what I wanted to do. Or turn a cartwheel, which my 74-year-old body might have regretted.
While the candlelit video and photos were beautiful, I wanted a clearer depiction of this midnight miracle. I got help learning how to use the flash function on my phone camera before the second bud opened the next night. I shared another spectacular, mind-blowing show with my dog, along with the chirping crickets and cicadas, but this time with better light.
The video above was the second unfolding. The shaking was caused by Shadow moving around in the background.
Thinking the night-blooming cereus show was over, I happily discovered 23 more buds shortly after Labor Day. Then the buds started bursting into bloom every night for five nights in a row. On Friday, the 13th, three opened. I videoed each one, which was no mean feat, given my exuberance over such generosity of beauty at one time.
The combination of Friday the 13th, a beautiful Harvest moon, and three gloriously amazing flower openings in one night just about did me in. But they kept blooming - on Sunday night three opened side by side instead of all over the plant. That was an even more spectacular triple opening.
Exhausted from very little sleep, I couldn’t make myself ignore these gifts of miraculous loveliness. I kept videoing all the openings as usual, finding, amazingly, that each bloom opened uniquely. The petals spiked from different sides with different rhythm, pacing, and length of time to fully open.
By now, I was trying to figure out how to share this miracle with my family four hours away. Hmmm, a plan began to hatch. That’s a story for another day.
Carol Ann Self, a University of Alabama graduate and huge football fan, is a clinical psychologist living in Mandeville, LA, with her dog, Shadow.
An avid and gifted gardener, she obviously uses her nurturing powers on plants as well as people.
In full disclosure, she and the founder of this site have the same parents.